Baptists and the American Civil War: May 12, 1863


Illustration of the Battle of Raymond by Theodore Davis

Today near the small town of Raymond, Mississippi, Confederate and Union forces clash as Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant continues his efforts to capture nearby Vicksburg. The federals, clearly outnumbering the Confederates, win the battle. The conflict results in nearly 1,000 casualties, and by midnight Raymond is filled with wounded soldiers.

The Confederates turn the Courthouse and Oak Tree Hotel into hospitals, while federal forces appropriate the Baptist and Episcopal churches, Masonic Hall, Female Institute and private residences. General Grant establishes temporary headquarters in town, and for the next two weeks his army occupies the town and surrounding countryside, disrupting life in Raymond. One citizen later remembers May 12 as the “saddest day Raymond ever witnessed.”

The Southern Baptist Convention had been scheduled to meet in Mississippi for the body’s  bi-annual meeting, but Grant’s offensive had led the convention to relocate to Augusta, Georgia, where today they are meeting for the final day of their assembly. As has been the case each day of the gathering, army missions is at the center of discussions. The Bible Board at Nashville having been earlier disbanded due to the Union occupation of that city, Southern Baptist divines, as one of their last acts in Augusta, seek a way to formalize a system of distributing Bibles and Christian literature to Confederate soldiers.

Resolved, That a committee of three by appointed to draft a system of Colportage for the consideration of this body at its next session. Committee: B. Manly, of Ala., J. B. Jeter, of Va., S. Henderson, of Ala.

Thus leaving matters, Southern Baptist leaders reflect the ambiguity of the times. Wanting to believe that God will soon lead his Confederate nation to victory but fearful that the war is not going well, they appoint a committee to create a publications ministry to Confederate soldiers to be considered in the next meeting of the SBC two years hence, knowing full well — both hoping and fearing — that the war may well be over by then.

Sources: Rebecca C. Drake, “Battle of Raymond” (link); Parker Hills, “Battle of Raymond,” including image (link); “Proceedings of the ninth biennial session, of the Southern Baptist Convention, held in the Green Street Baptist Church, Augusta, Ga., May 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th, 1863” (link)